This week, Mississippi’s national parks like others around the nation are closed due to the government shutdown. That includes the Vicksburg National Military Park, Brice’s Cross Roads National Battlefield near Baldwyn, Grand Gulf Military Monument near Port Gibson, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs, Natchez National Historic Park and Tupelo National Battlefield.
Some travelers may be a bit disgruntled because they’ve had to postpone or even cancel trips to these sites, but there is one Mississippi attraction that is a part of the National Parks Service that remains mostly open for visitors and residents to enjoy, the Natchez Trace Parkway. A leisurely drive along the parkway, commonly known as the Trace, is a great way to enjoy a little downtime this weekend or to get to your destination without dealing with the break-neck pace of the interstates or highways since the speed limit is 50 miles per hour most of the way. Many travelers from near and far take annual trips on the Trace to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage and to watch Mississippi’s scenic outdoors drift by at a much slower pace.
Stretching from Natchez to Nashville, the Natchez Trace Parkway extends 444 miles through three states and 10,000 years of history. Established as a unit of the National Park System in 1938 and officially completed in 2005, the Trace commemorates the most significant highway of the Old Southwest.
The natural travel corridor that became the Natchez Trace dates back many centuries. It bisected the traditional homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations. As the U.S. expanded westward in the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing numbers of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path. The “sunken” sections you can walk along today are clear signs of historic use. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson designated the Trace a national postal road for the delivery of mail between Nashville and Natchez.
Today, travelers can wind their way along the Trace to attractions like the Ruins of Windsor near Port Gibson, the Mississippi Crafts Center in Ridgeland, French Camp Historic Village in French Camp, the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo and 50,000 acres of lakes in Tishomingo County.
Just a friendly reminder that although the roadway is open along the Natchez Trace, restroom facilities, campgrounds and visitors centers are in fact closed due to the shutdown. So plan accordingly if you’ll be traveling the Trace anytime soon.
For more information about the Natchez Trace Parkway, visit http://www.scenictrace.com/.